Real Madrid took a massive step tow a r d s w i n n i n g the elite Spanish football league, La Liga, after defeating Granada 2-1 in a late Monday night game. Since its inception, a total of 62 teams have competed in La Liga. Nine teams have been crowned champions, with Real Madrid winning the title a record 33 times. Now, Real Madrid has to win one out of their two remaining games to lift the title 34th time.
The victory was similar to most of the club’s victories since the return of football. Out of the 9 wins the Club has secured since La Liga returned in June, 5 have been with a one-goal margin, a stat that shows that the potential champions have had to fight hard for their 3 points.
Their performances have been mostly all-round with almost every player playing a part. Eight different players have scored in these games and the defence too has ticked, ensuring 6 clean sheets.
But arch-rivals Barcelona has witnessed a contrasting story since the lockdown having dropped 6 points in 3 draws. Not all is good in the Catalan camp with their defence struggling, big fishes except Messi failing to tick and the club which was once the hub of young talent failing to see many breakthroughs in that area.
Not many would have backed Real Madrid to even compete with Barcelona this year, forget lifting the title. Los Blancos had lost the greatest player in their history. Ronaldo and his expected replacements Bale and Hazard have failed to make a big impact in Madrid’s game.
However, their veterans Benzema and Sergio Ramos have stepped up with goals and all players have made valuable contributions.
As for Barcelona, Messi has been the lone warrior holding the highest goal scorer and provider record, but others have almost failed. Their biggest disappointment has been the failure of French star and ex-Atletico talisman Antoine Griezmann who has just managed 9 goals and 4 assists in 35 appearances this season.
A season without a trophy for the Blaugrana had put the future of their manager Setien in doubt but the club has now confirmed that he will be staying at least for the next season. His biggest challenge continues to be finding fresh young talent that the club was once known for and nurturing more talent from La Masia which is still one of the world’s best academies. They have already sold one promising young player in the form of Arthur, their 23-year-old midfielder, who will join Juventus with veteran midfielder Pjanic moving to Barcelona.
Real Madrid after winning the league this season will prove that that the club has moved on despite losing their former star Ronaldo to Italian giants Juventus.
Although for Madrid, fading Gareth Bale and yet to settle Eden Hazard — whom they have chosen to play a pivotal role in their attack — continue to pose a worry and that has to be addressed.
Both the clubs will soon witness the end of an era, with most of their veterans and global stars into their thirties. Investing and pushing the youth remain the most important focus area for the world’s most elite football clubs.
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SOME AUSTRALIA PLAYERS CONCERNED ABOUT TOURING PAKISTAN
Ahead of the upcoming multi-format tour of Pakistan, it has emerged that some Australian players are concerned about visiting the country.
As per a report in Sydney Morning Herald, the players are increasingly worrying about terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This is the first time in 24 years that Australia would be touring Pakistan. Earlier, Cricket Australia had said that the safety and wellbeing of their players remains the top-most priority.
“Cricket Australia (CA) and the Pakistan Cricket Board continue to work closely in planning the tour and are in regular contact with our respective governments,” the statement said.
“We continue to have regular and open discussions with our players and support staff on the extensive security, biosecurity and operational arrangements for the tour,” it added.
Earlier, national selector George Bailey had said that he believed security plans were “very, very robust and very, very thorough” for the tour of Pakistan after multiple briefings for what would be the first Australian tour of the country since Mark Taylor’s men visited in 1998.
“I believe the boards are still working through some of the minor details around that tour, so once that gets the formal tick of approval then we’ll announce the squad post that, but we’re reasonably well down the track,” Bailey told reporters, as per cricket.com.au.
The Test squad will largely pick itself following the successful 4-0 drubbing of England in this summer’s Ashes series, with the emergence of Scott Boland as a reliable workhorse allowing selectors to rest Jhye Richardson. The historic Test series between Pakistan and Australia is scheduled to begin on March 3 in Karachi.
KOHLI AND ROHIT FIRM AT SECOND AND THIRD SPOTS; DE KOCK BREAKS INTO TOP FIVE
South Africa batters Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen have made huge gains in the ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings after helping their team complete a memorable 3-0 series win over India.
De Kock is in the top five for the first time since the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 after aggregating 229 runs that included a match-winning 124 in the final match in Cape Town. The wicketkeeper-batter has moved up four places after his Player of the Series effort. Van der Dussen, who scored 218 runs, has advanced 10 places to reach a career-best 10th position. Captain Temba Bavuma has also made huge progress, reaching a career-best 59th position from 80th before the latest weekly update which also includes the Afghanistan-Netherlands series and the last match of the Sri Lanka-Zimbabwe series.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan, the leading scorer for India against South Africa with 169 runs, has moved up one place to 15th in the list led by Pakistan captain Babar Azam with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma in second and joint-third positions, respectively. Rishabh Pant is up five places to 82nd.
AFC was not professional in maintaining bubble, our dream is destroyed: Dennerby
India women’s football team coach Thomas Dennerby on Wednesday said that his side is not happy with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and in one way or another, the dreams of his side were destroyed.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Monday had confirmed that COVID-hit India withdrew from the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and their remaining Group A matches stand cancelled. India was unable to register a minimum of 13 players (including one goalkeeper) in the player selection list and start list for the match between Chinese Taipei and India on Sunday.
“I am extremely proud of my players and staff. AIFF has done a wonderful job, nothing more could be done and no one from the federation could have changed the situation. Honestly, we are not happy with the AFC tournament organization and the lack of solution-oriented dialogue. We think in one way, our dream was destroyed but we are not blaming the whole AFC organization,” said Dennerby during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
“We have strictly followed the AFC protocols. The girls stayed in their rooms all the time. All team meetings happened in the room. On the 16th we were tested for COVID-19 again, at that time first case in our camp was detected, which means, the first case of COVID happened when we came out of quarantine, how was it possible? Very strange, first feeling, it might have come from someone in the bubble,” he added.
Further explaining the situation, the coach said: “On the 18th we were tested again, three more positive results detected in our camp. The positive cases were close to the hotel staff, co-incidence or not? What we did not know was that the hotel staff was tested on the 17th, the result was sent to AFC on the 18th and after that, the AFC did not send the report to the hotel until the 19th around 1:30 PM. When the results came, seven hotel staff members were infected with COVID.”
“The staff was cleaning our rooms when we were inside, why did not AFC send the reports immediately? Why wait the whole day? Did they understand this was not good, no action was taken. AFC should have called the hotel directly and should have immediately asked them to leave the hotel. That was a really big mistake, that was an unprofessional way to handle the AFC bubble, no explanations can be good enough,” he added.
Replying to an ANI query on whether there is something AFC could do differently heading into the future, the coach said: “Hopefully, we all learn something out of this situation including AFC. Honestly, I do not want to blame anyone, in particular, I just wanted the put out the full story to stop all the rumours doing the rounds. I just wanted everyone to know that we followed all the protocols.”
Further replying to ANI on whether AFC was too rigid in not having proper dialogue, Dennerby said: “It is not me personally who tried to have the communication with AFC, but I read all the mails that arrived at our federation. If you read all these emails, you can say they did not even open the door to do something about this. As I said, it was painful to see the lack of solution-oriented dialogue.”
AFC in an official statement said: “Accordingly, Article 4.1 of the Special Rules Applicable to AFC Competitions during Covid-19 Pandemic (“Special Rules”) applied.” “In view of the above, India was unable to participate in the match, is to be held responsible for the match not taking place, and is considered as to have withdrawn from the competition,” the statement added.
“What hurts me is that AFC is now trying to blame us, this is a shame. When we are trying to have a dialogue with them, they are saying read Article 4.1 of Special Rules, they say no hotel staff is infected, how do we know it is true or not? From my side, the biggest problem is that AFC was not interested in having a conversation to handle this situation,” said Dennerby.
“On the 20th, we played a game against Iran that ended as a goalless draw. After the game, not all players felt good, on the 21st morning we had sessions with substitutes, in the evening we had pre-game testing. On the 22nd, seven more of our players tested positive for COVID. We had another testing on 22nd, two more ended up testing positive and now a total of 10 of our players were infected,” he added.
NEERAJ CHOPRA ‘THANKFUL’ AFTER PVSM, PADMA SHRI; PROUD FEELING FOR PRAMOD BHAGAT
Neeraj Chopra on Tuesday said he will continue to try to perform his best for India after the government announced that the javelin thrower will be conferred with Padma Shri this year.
He will also be awarded Param Vashistha Seva Medal. The awards were announced on the eve of 73rd Republic Day. “I am very happy. Got to know about PVSM and Padma Shri, thankful for all your wishes and support. I am here for my morning training. Will continue to do hard work in the future. I will try to perform best for my country,” Neeraj Chopra said in a video posted on Twitter.
“Congratulations also to all those who have won awards,” he added. Neeraj is currently amid his off-season training at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Centre in California, USA. He is currently preparing for the 2022 World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in the prestigious training centre. The Tokyo Paralympics champions shuttler Pramod Bhagat and javelin thrower Sumit Antil will also be awarded Padma Shri.
“Proud feeling and great experience to be honoured with Padma Shri award. This will help me get more laurels for our country. Thank you,” Pramod Bhagat said. Devendra Jhajharia will be conferred with the Padma Bhushan. Ace Indian javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia is a two-time Paralympics gold medallist (Athens 2004, Rio 2016) and one-time silver medallist (Tokyo 2020). In 2012, he was the first Paralympian to be honoured with Padma Shri. The gold and bronze medallist at Tokyo Paralympics Avani Lekhara will be also honoured with Padma Shri.
Vandana Kataria who was part of the Indian women’s hockey team which finished fourth in the Tokyo Olympics will also be conferred with the Padma Shri award. Padma Shri will also be conferred on Brahmanand Sankhwalkar who is a former Indian footballer and a captain. He played as a goalkeeper in the team. Sankaranarayana Menon Chundayil, and Faisal Ali Dar, a former international martial arts champion are among others who will be conferred with the Padma Shri.
Rohit clears fitness test, to lead India in series against WI
Rohit Sharma had missed the Test and ODI series against South Africa due to injury and went to the NCA for rehabilitation.
India white-ball skipper Rohit Sharma on Wednesday cleared his fitness test and as a result, he will be available to lead the side in the upcoming white-ball series against West Indies, beginning February 6.
Sources in the know of developments confirmed to ANI that Rohit has indeed passed his fitness test held at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). “Yes, Rohit has cleared his fitness test and he will be leading the side in the upcoming series against West Indies,” source said.
Earlier, Rohit Sharma had missed the Test and ODI series against South Africa due to a hamstring injury and he went to the NCA for rehabilitation. The selection committee is set to meet on Wednesday afternoon to deliberate on the squad for the series against West Indies.
“Jasprit Bumrah is all but set to be rested as his workload management is important looking at the international calendar. He featured in all Tests and ODIs against South Africa, so it is important we give him a break,” the source added.
India and West Indies will lock horns in three ODIs and three T20Is. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Saturday had announced a change in venues for the upcoming West Indies’ Tour of India. The three ODIs will now be played at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Ahmedabad and three T20Is will be held at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
France to join Men’s FIH Hockey Pro League
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) on Tuesday announced that France will join the third edition of the Men’s FIH Hockey Pro League.
After Canada eventually pulled out due to COVID-related issues, FIH had contacted the next best teams, according to the FIH World Rankings, to invite one of them to replace Canada.
France have accepted the invitation and, as the highest-ranked team having done so, will join the global home-and-away league – ‘Hockey at its Best’ – for this season.
As communicated earlier, France’s participation in the FIH Hockey Pro League is planned for this third edition only. Indeed, Australia and New Zealand, who are not playing the current season due to COVID-related international travel constraints, are expected to come back for the fourth edition (2022-2023). The French team will play their first match on 8 February against India, in Potchefstroom (South Africa). The full match schedule of the third edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League is available.
France have qualified for the next FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, which will be played in January 2023 in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela (India). The French Men’s Junior team recently claimed the bronze medal at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021, with France captain Timothee Clement crowned Best Player of the Tournament.
France will also host the Paris 2024 Olympic events in 2 years’ time.
“It is great news that France are joining the FIH Hockey Pro League for the current season. As hosts of the next Olympic Games, being part of such a top-flight competition involving the best teams in the world can only be a positive move for the French team as well as for the growth of hockey in the country”, commented FIH CEO Thierry Weil.
The first FIH Hockey Pro League matches of the year will involve the Women’s teams of China and India. They will take place on 31 January and 1 February in Muscat, Oman, where both teams are currently playing the Women’s Asia Cup 2022.
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